Will Vermont legalize recreational pot this year? If this happens, The Green Mountain State will be the 12th state to make this bold move, and the 2nd state to do so through its legislature. The situation at the moment is at the mercies of the Governor who is expected to sign into law bill, S. 54.
Last week on September 15, the Vermont House and Senate made a final agreement on cannabis bill S. 54. This bill is intended to legalize, regulate, and tax legal marijuana sales in the state. The bill was approved by a vote of (92-56) on September 17th. It now awaits one final vote in the senate before it can proceed to the desk of Gov. Phil Scott.
In the wake of the COVID-19 triggered economic downturn, legal sales from recreational weed could serve as an economic stimulus for the state. It is surprising that cannabis sales have shown resilience despite the pandemic.
A report by a Denver-based law firm- Vicente Sederberg that was published on August 5 projected that Vermont would collect $12 million in sales once recreational pot is legalized. This figure is based on a collection from 14% retail excise tax. The report also projected a collection of $37 million to $ 42 million in the first five years, depending on the excise tax rate. Whatever the figure, it is likely that Vermont will reap financial benefits (tax revenue) through the legalization of adult-use marijuana. However, this may not be sufficient enough to tackle long-term budget constraints.
Last year, Illinois became the first state to legalize recreational pot through its legislature. In Vermont, it is not very clear whether the Republican Gov. Phil Scott will sign bill S54 into law. It is more of a “wait-to-see what will be included in the bill” before we know the Governor’s true position. This appears to be the rate limiting step.
Speaking of which, recreational pot in Vermont is in a “situation.” In 2018, the possession and use of marijuana was legalized, though no systems were put in place to regulate legal sales. This left the recreational cannabis industry pending. Below is a snapshot of what Vermont Act 86 represents.
What is Vermont Act 86?
The Vermont Act 86 went into effect on July 1st 2018. This act eliminates penalties for the possession and use of marijuana by adults aged above 21 years in Vermont. The Act legalized the possession of one ounce of marijuana and five grams of hashish. It also legalized the cultivation of two mature marijuana plants and four immature marijuana plants.
If the Governor assents to bill S54, recreational pot will be legal in Vermont. This will mean many things for the state, and will also fail to mean a couple of things. To understand this better, let us look at what is spelled out in the bill.
What is Vermont Cannabis Bill S54?
- Changing from “marijuana” to “cannabis” in all Vermont statuses.
- The cannabis board will establish a system to prioritize minority and women- owned businesses, and those who were disproportionately affected by the war on drugs. The system will also promote an equal geographical distribution.
- Provision of technical and business assistance to minority (priority) owned businesses.
- Priority in licensing will be given to small scale cultivators occupying not more than 1,000 square feet of canopy. These group will also be allowed to grow cannabis in land that is designated as “current use” farmland.
- Grounds to deny one participation in the legal cannabis industry will be crafted. Non-violent drug related offences will not be automatic grounds for denial of cannabis business licenses.
- An independent board (Cannabis Control Board) will be created to regulate adult use and medical cannabis dispensaries.
- The board will issues licenses for cultivators, manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, and labs. Cultivation and retail licenses must be tiered.
- Cannabis dispensaries must comply with regulations regarding financing disclosure, eligibility, lab testing, employee training, packaging and labelling, transportation, and marketing.
- The cannabis board will develop a symbol that will be used on all cannabis products.
- Potency limits will be set by the board. Flowers will not exceed 30% THC and concentrates will not exceed 60% THC.
- All cannabis products will be subjected to third-party lab testing before they can be sold.
- Recreational cannabis will be taxed while medical cannabis sales will remain untaxed. Retail sales will be taxed at 20% (14% excise tax and 6% sales tax).
The senate is also expected to pass a companion bill (S. 234) that will allow for the expungement of low-level marijuana convictions.
If the writing on the wall is anything to go with, Vermont is likely to legalize recreational pot sooner rather than later. We promise to keep you posted when this happens.